ABOVE: STILL LIFE STILL. PHOTO COURTESY OF JACQUELINE WESTINNER
Friend since childhood, the members of Still Life Still feel like family. Two of them—drummer Aaron Romaniuk and keyboardist Josh Romaniuk—actually are family. The Toronto-based band has had a tumultuous few years, however. Since releasing their debut album Girls Come Too in 2009, guitarist/vocalist Eric Young has lost both of his parents, and the band has lost a close friend. With their new LP, the aptly titled Mourning Trance, the quintet has instinctively transitioned from their usual upbeat party sound to something more serious. The entire album is, the band tells us, about “waking up every morning, working eight hours, and still finding a way to celebrate surviving another day… a wake for the living, and a celebration for all that’s left.”
We spoke with Aaron Romaniuk about the band’s mourning process, where they began, and how they plan to move foreword. In anticipation of Mourning Trance‘s release next week, we are pleased to offer an exclusive stream below.
EMILIA PETRARCA: You grew up in Canada?
AARON ROMANIUK: Yep, we grew up in Canada’s only borough, which is no longer an official place. They made it a mega-city. They combined all of Toronto and all of the little suburbs into one big one. Now it’s just Toronto.
PETRARCA: So you grew up with all of the band members.
ROMANIUK: Yeah, we all grew up five minutes away from each other. We could walk, so it was very easy to practice at my house.
PETRARCA: In the basement?
ROMANIUK: Yeah, in my basement for, I think five years until my neighbors had enough and eventually we had to get a space.
PETRARCA: What are some things that you did together when you were younger?
ROMANIUK: A bunch of us used to skateboard. We would hang out and skateboard, but once we became a band we were pretty hardcore, so it was five-days-a-week practice in the basement. A lot of jamming. We all went to the same school, so that made it a lot easier.
PETRARCA: Did people in your class know that you were in a band?
ROMANIUK: I guess. We made our debut in grade nine. We did a talent show and people were like, “Oh, you guys are a real band.” Well, as real as you can be in grade nine. A lot of people we grew up with and went to high school with are still coming to our shows and supporting us.
PETRARCA: Did you go to college together as well?
ROMANIUK: Just high school. A few of us applied and got in, and we were going to go but we were like, “No, we’ll choose music.” So we chose the School of Rock. We’ll see where it takes us. Maybe we should have all just gone to college.
PETRARCA: I read that you all taught each other how to play. How did that work?
ROMANIUK: Basically, no one really knew how to play instruments. Eric’s brother had a guitar that he used to play around with, and Brendan [Saarinen] used to play drums, but now [Brendan] is our lead singer. He had switched to guitar and started writing songs when we formed the band. He taught me how to play drums, but he didn’t know how to play drums either. Everyone bought their instruments and we learned to play together. It wasn’t about learning the scales or proper notes, it was about what fit into the songs. I think you can kind of hear it—we’re pretty ghetto musicians that only know how to play with each other.
PETRARCA: Your band is kind of like your extended family, but what’s it like playing with your sibling?
ROMANIUK: My older brother wasn’t an original member—it was just the four of us—and it took some convincing. I was like, “Please just join our band. We need keys and we need percussion.” One day he showed up and he had a keyboard and was like, “All right, let’s give this a try.” It’s been a long time now since he’s been in the band. He’s always been in the unofficial original band, but it wasn’t actually official until years later. It’s nice being on tour with him because we can break away and have some bro time. It’s good to have a family member there, that’s for sure. Plus, he’s someone I can call out more than I can call out other members of the band. It’s different with family. I can be a little harder on him.
PETRARCA: The video for Mourning Trance‘s lead single “Burial Suit” looks it was taken from home videos—were they home videos from the band?
ROMANIUK: Yes, actually. My grandmother and my deceased grandfather, who I never met, filmed all of that. It’s basically my dad growing up in Toronto and their travels. We were stuck for a video—we didn’t know what to do—and my grandmother had recently converted all of them to DVD. We turned it on and we were listening to the song and we realized that we already had a video and we didn’t have to do anything. We just edited it and voilà, the cheapest video ever was made. I think it fits the song really, really well.
PETRARCA: Have you ever watched your own home videos?
ROMANIUK: Yeah, all the time. I have hilarious ones of me growing up and of the band. Derek [Paulin], the bass player, his dad filmed the first four years of shows—every show. Every once in a while it’s fun to put it on and see what we thought was appropriate to wear onstage.
PETRARCA: What’s inappropriate to wear onstage?
ROMANIUK: We have a very strong no-shorts policy now. And no hilarious sandals and terrible outfits.
PETRARCA: What was your most recent tour experience like?
ROMANIUK: Field Trip was the most recent one and the big one. It was a one-day festival in Toronto at Fort York and it was Broken Social Scene, Feist, Bloc Party—all the bands on our Arts & Crafts label. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something when you play the whole day with bands that you like and you grew up listening to and you can share the stage with them. It’s a little bit surreal, I guess.
PETRARCA: I love the name Arts & Crafts. Do you do any arts and crafts?
ROMANIUK: Yeah. Oddly enough, when we were first starting out and didn’t have enough money to press CDs, we made canvas sleeves. We sat at home and I think we painted like 200 of these things—the CD and the case. Painting the CD was a terrible idea because it would get stuck in people’s CD players and the paint would melt. We got angry phone calls being like, “You just ruined my CD player!” But yeah, that was some serious arts and crafts. I did all the artwork for the first record, so I’d say we’re a pretty crafty band, actually. It’s a fitting name.
PETRARCA: Do you consider yourself an artist?
ROMANIUK: I don’t consider myself an artist, but I make art. I paint, but I’ve been slacking lately. The first record was a lot of work. This time I was like, “Not a chance in hell.” I didn’t want to go through it again. It’s hard when you make something and you’re like, “This is the cover!” And you bring it to the band and the band is like, “Nah, no. That’s not the cover.” So we figured it would be easier this time to find a friend who was an artist and steal her stuff.
PETRARCA: What’s your day job?
ROMANIUK: I’m a delivery driver. I drive food back and forth for a company. And I work with my brother, funnily enough. The two of us work together all day every day and the other three dudes in the band, they have a construction company, so the three of them work together as well. We’re basically never separated. I worked with them at the construction company once and then I was like, “All right, I’m not smashing rocks with you guys anymore, I’m cruising around in the AC.”
PETRARCA: When you’re in a band with all of your closest friends, does it ever really seem like work?
ROMANIUK: Kind of. It’s funny since we all work day jobs, too, and we try and practice four nights a week, so it gets pretty crazy. My girlfriend is always like, “You’re lucky because you get to make music and hang out with your friends every night,” but eventually it does feel like work. But that’s only on the days when you’ve had a bad day at actual work. Normally, on good days, there’s nothing better than drinking some beers and hanging out with your friends making music. As long as you can keep doing new stuff. We got stuck in a rut practicing this record for almost two years before we recorded it, which was amazing because we weren’t touring and when we got into the studio we could do it really quick. It’s not really work, but when it’s the same thing over and over again it can kind of feel like work. We’ve got to learn to go out and party with our friends’ bands more instead of just jamming in the studio. I think we’re jamming a little too much.
MOURNING TRANCE COMES OUT NEXT TUESDAY, AUGUST 20, VIA ARTS & CRAFTS.